A legislative provision designed to protect growers of biotech crops from the whims of US courts expired in late September, following an overblown public relations attack from special interest groups. The provision allowed farmers to continue growing a genetically modified (GM) crop whose approval might be subsequently invalidated by a US court (Nat. Biotechnol. 31, 479, 2013). The law followed two high-profile cases—Roundup Ready alfalfa and sugar beets—in which US courts halted planting of the deregulated crops after finding that the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) environmental review was insufficient. Growers were left in limbo while the USDA completed its court-ordered environmental impact statement, which took years and concluded in both cases that there was no environmental impact. The temporary provision was intended to avoid such situations in future and provide continuity for farmers, who make planting decisions several seasons in advance. But special interest groups launched a public attack on the law, dubbing the provision the “Monsanto Protection Act,” as the crops in the court cases were products of the St. Louis–based agbiotech company. The attackers declared victory when the provision, section 735 of a temporary spending bill passed in March this year, was allowed to expire with the bill at the end of September. These groups blew the issue out of proportion, says Jon Entine, director of the Genetic Literacy Project at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. “This became a public relations gambit by anti-GMO activists,” he says. “It's a symbolic issue rather than a real one.” Besides, the USDA already possesses the power detailed in the controversial provision. In the sugar beets case, USDA allowed the crop to be grown on a limited basis while the agency finished its environmental review. It's not worth the battle to try to get the provision attached to another bill, says Greg Jaffe, director of biotech at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, DC. “I would hope the provision just goes away since all it did was cause controversy.
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Waltz, E. GM crop protection act fizzles. Nat Biotechnol 31, 953 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/nbt1113-953